A Catholic high school is hardly the most welcoming environment for two boys to fall in love, especially when one of them is deeply conflicted about his sexuality, as Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s bare made heartbreaking clear in its 2000 World Premiere at the Hudson Mainstage Theater.
Now, thirteen years later, glory|struck productions brings bare back to the city of its birth in an exciting revival that could easily turn into the season’s biggest intimate musical smash.
Longtime boarding school roommates Peter (Payson Lewis) and Jason (Jonah Platt) have, in the years since their first meeting, gone from best friends to secret boyfriends, and though each of them has up till now been content with the status quo, Peter is beginning to tire of “spending days in silent fear and spending nights in lonely prayer.” Perhaps the time has come to put an end to this “Best Kept Secret” and let his mother Claire (Alissa-Nicole Koblentz)—and the rest of the world—know the truth about who he is and who he loves.
Much of bare takes place during rehearsals for St. Cecilia High’s production of Romeo And Juliet, with Peter as Mercutio, Jason as Romeo, and school bad girl Ivy (Lindsay Pearce) as Juliet. That Ivy has feelings for Jason paralleling Juliet’s for Romeo makes for quite a love triangle, particularly when Jason feels tempted to dip his toes into heterosexual waters with his lovestruck costar.
Further complicating this already highly combustible mix is the unrequited love that classmate Matt (Nathan Parrett) feels for Ivy, and the bitter resentment that Jason’s low self-esteem-plagued sister Nadia (standby Shelley Regner) harbors for the prettier, more popular Ivy.
With a mother who doesn’t want to hear a truth she’s already figured out on her own, a priest (John Griffin, bare’s original Jason) who uses Catholic doctrine both to advise Peter and to repress his own same-sex longings, and a sassy black nun named Sister Chantelle (Stephanie Andersen reprising the role she originated) who already has enough on her plate directing Romeo And Juliet to lend a sympathetic ear to Peter, it seems hardly likely that boy and boy can fare any better than boy and girl did in the hostile world that surrounded Romeo and Juliet.
Admittedly, things have gotten considerably better for teens like Peter and Jason in the dozen or so years since bare’s debut, but not so much that similar stories aren’t still taking place in Catholic schools across the USA, making bare work equally well in the 2013 “Now” as it did in the 2000 “Then.”
Though you can hear echoes of Jonathan Larson’s Rent in bare’s eclectic score, Intrabartolo’s melodies have their own catchy, often deeply-affecting appeal, making the gifted musical theater talent’s recent death at a mere thirty-nine all the more heartbreaking. Hartmere’s lyrics provide a perfect complement to Intrabartolo’s tunes in addition to advancing the plot of this mostly sung-through musical. (There’s just enough dialog in Intrabartolo and Hartmere’s book to make bare a good deal easier to follow on first viewing than Rent.)
Director Calvin Remsberg, who lost out on his bid to direct bare’s 2000 World Premiere, sees his wish come true in 2013, the multiple Scenie-winning director eliciting all-around spendid performances from a cast that delivers the dramatic goods every bit as terrifically as they sing bare’s three-dozen songs. Add to that some fabulous choreography by Jen Oundjian and a pulsating rock backup by musical director Elmo Zapp and his onstage orchestra and you’ve got a production that “bareheads” and newbies can embrace with equal excitement.
It’s hard to imagine a better cast of up-and-coming triple-threats than the ensemble onstage at the Hayworth, a mash-up of cast members from last year’s Spring Awakening and Spring Awakening In Concert, with just enough newcomers to spice up the mix.
Rising stars Lewis, Platt, and Pearce simply could not be better as bare’s highly combustible love triangle, the trio’s deeply-felt acting matching their print model looks and thrilling vocals, with special snaps to Lewis’s “Role Of A Lifetime,” Platt’s “Once Upon A Time,” Lewis and Platt’s “You & I,” “Best Kept Secret,” and “Bare,” Pearce’s “Portrait Of A Girl” and “All Grown Up,” and Platt and Pearce’s “One Kiss” and “Touch My Soul.”
Regner is a rage-filled powerhouse—and touchingly real—as Nadia, whether belting out “Plain Jane Fat Ass” or getting quietly introspective in “A Quiet Night At Home.” Nathan Parrett makes Matt much more than bare’s requisite villain, and he too shines vocally, particularly opposite Lewis in “Are You There?” Koblentz too avoids stereotype as Claire, whether refusing to allow her son to come out to her in “See Me” or breaking your heart with “Warning.”
In addition to the undeniable nostalgia factor, it’s a particular thrill to see Andersen owning the role of Sister Chantelle like no one else can and Griffin giving poignant nuances to the Priest, a role that in lesser hands could simply be bare’s bad guy. Andersen’s “911! Emergency” and “God Don’t Make No Trash” are bona fide showstoppers, and though the Priest is a cameo role, Griffin’s tear-inducing performance of “Cross” opposite Platt makes it a bare 2013 standout.
Supporting all of the above is an ensemble of triple-threats—dance captain Caitlin Ary (Tanya), Kelsey Hainlan (Rory), Casey Hayden (Lucas), Christopher Higgins (Zack), Reesa Ishiyama (Diane), dance captain Harrison Meloeny (Alan), and Katherine Washington (Kyra)—who not only vocalize and dance to perfection but create clearly defined characters despite minimal spoken lines.
Top marks go too to bare’s sensational onstage band—Jonah Blomquist (guitar), associate musical director Andrew Orbison (piano, keys), Morgan Paros (violin), Steve Riley (drums), associate music production Alex Seller (lead guitar), Royel Strangely (cello), and Zapp (bass)—who give bare 2013 a harder-rock sound than the 2000 original. (See update below: Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of sound designer Drew Dalzell, assistant sound designer Rebecca Kessin, and mix engineer Erik Hall, audience members unfamiliar with Hartmere’s lyrics were probably unable to decipher many of them on Opening Night, especially in full-cast numbers early in the show, though with some tweaking this is a problem easily resolved.)
Scenic designer Josh Clabaugh’s imaginative multi-locale set, Brandon Baruch’s eye-popping lighting design, and wardrobe stylist and designer Alex Merrell’s sexy take on Catholic school garb all help make bare the standout production it is.
Additional credits go to assistant to the director Jevin Andrews, assistant choreographer Erik Hall, master electrician Clarke Surrey, and production stage manager Juliana Scott.
bare is produced by Topher Rhys and Jamie Lee Barnard and co-produced by Stephanie Lazard and Zapp. Stephen Michael Brown, Mark Heidel, Byron Howard, Gregory Lawrence, Tricia Small, and Shepard Summers are associate producers. (Yes, it does take a village.)
I discovered bare at the Hudson Theatre late in its 2000-2001 run and always wished I had seen it a second time. Though it’s taken a dozen years for that wish to come true, what a thrill it’s been to be given that second chance in an electrifying revival that not only does justice to its source material, it does the much missed Damon Intrabartolo proud.
A return visit to the Hayworth Theatre a week after Opening Night finds glory|struck productions’ return-to-L.A. revival of Jon Hartmere and Damon Intrabartolo’s bare fine-tuned to perfection, lead performances and supporting performances enriched, and sound issues that plagued opening night resolved. (I could understand just about every word this time round!)
The result: even more of a must-see production for lovers of modern musical theater, and a couldn’t-be-better showcase for its phenomenal young cast.
Payson Lewis’s compelling, gorgeously sung Peter continues to give bare its powerful emotional core, while Jonah Platt continues to impress as Jason, his final scenes the very definition of heart-breaking. Lindsay Pearce’s richly layered and exquisitely sung Ivy and Nathan Parrett’s striking presence and vocals as Matt earn deserved cheers once again.
Ensemble players create even more finely defined characters, each with his or her own storyline.
Finally, the extraordinary (and offstage luminously effervescent) Katie Stevens vanishes inside Nadia’s tortured skin, investing Jason’s self-deprecating, self-damaging sister with years of pain and anger—and the stellar vocals you’d expect from someone who made American Idol’s Top Ten at a mere 17. (Can you tell I’m her newest fan?)
I couldn’t be more thrilled to have been able to see bare a second time. You’ll kick yourself if you don’t see it even once.
September 6, 2013
Photos: Leigh Schindler